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Shifting power through research: 10 authors, 10 reflections

Ten SEI researchers spanning different geographies and disciplines worked together to write the discussion brief “Shifting power through climate research“, which aims to spark new thinking about the ways that individual researchers can seek to challenge existing power dynamics that disadvantage those in the Global South. Here, the co-authors – all women whose work explores power dynamics in different contexts – reflect about why this issue resonated with their work and lives.

As an immigrant and national of Pakistan, a former British colony, I found that post-colonial theory could equip me with the language to understand and deconstruct how broader societal structures and historical legacies impacted my lived experience and my work. As famously coined by second-wave feminism, the personal is political. Shifting power through climate research allows us to examine not only how the personal in terms of our positionality, privilege and identity influences our work, but also how our work influences the personal in terms of its impacts on vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Zoha Shawoo, SEI US

I remember writing my first research paper in English as a native Vietnamese student and being told that the verbose style of writing that I grew up with would not fare well in English scientific writing. As I went on to re-learn how to write in the 'Western' style, I have come to realize that the barrier I faced was not just personal. Researchers from the Global South often experience structural barriers – including language. These are related to colonial legacies in Western science and research institutions that hinder the ability of researchers from other regions to contribute valuable insights and knowledge. For me, 'shifting power' is as much about giving power back to under-represented voices as it is about strengthening the credibility and legitimacy of climate science.

Minh Tran, SEI Asia

Shifting power is important for the understanding of inequalities combined with Indigenous people's rights. But sometimes you don't need to look that far away. What inequalities are present in your own surroundings?

Katarina Inga, SEI Headquarters

Growing up in India, I had the privilege to see first-hand the enormous skill of artisan communities whose work was once highly valued in the Western world. I read about how their work was systematically de-valued, often through force, during British colonialism. Today these communities are the invisible, under-compensated backbone of the global fashion industry. Over time I came to see how similar colonial legacies impacted all peoples living in the Global South. When I moved to the United States in 2019, I realized just how much easier it was to be a researcher here – thanks to having crossed that crucial visa barrier. For me, shifting power in climate research is about returning some of the power that was brutally grabbed from under-represented/marginalized communities by breaking down the structural and procedural barriers that keep them oppressed. By doing so we will only be doing ourselves a favour. We will be increasing the pool of knowledge and skills from which we draw solutions to the climate crisis. This can only be a good thing.

Anisha Nazareth, SEI US

I drew from my personal knowledge around climate change issues that I see in the sub-Saharan Africa region. This is a place that has contributed little to climate change. In this context,  ‘shifting power’ means acknowledging that colonialism is the root cause of the climate crisis. The current conversations mostly give dominance to the solutions of Western technocrats. It’s imperative to draw on local knowledge and expertise to broaden perspectives in our combined adaptation efforts, and bring true originality of solutions from the region.

Elvine Kwamboka, SEI Africa

The shifting power work has shown me that inequality and climate change are deeply interconnected. Climate research, through its potentially biased, Western-elite lens, has perpetuated those inequalities through exclusive and extractive research practices. We all need to do a better job in uplifting the voices of marginalized and vulnerable communities through better representation and leadership within climate research. I think it is useful that the discussion brief provides some concrete steps towards achieving that.

Emily Ghosh, SEI US

The question of 'power' is integral to my research on topics related to gender, environment, and development. We often use a feminist political ecology lens in understanding inequalities related to resource access and usage. The question of how we may 'shift power' is an important consideration. Social science researchers should grapple with this issue.

Jenny Yi-Chen Han, SEI Asia

As researchers, we also need to change our paradigms on how we conduct research in countries and societies where power is unbalanced. Having been raised in Latin America, I see this as an important issue. I want to see how I can contribute in other regions with this 'reframing' of research.

Rocio A. Diaz-Chavez, SEI Africa

I was very pleased to team up with other young female researchers from SEI to openly discuss about how colonial legacies and unequal power relations still shape climate impacts and climate research. Most importantly, it was a collective learning journey from reading publications on climate and decolonization to getting the conversation started across SEI centres. I am keen on applying the recommendations from the 'shifting power' work within my research on participatory approaches for inclusive water management.

Cláudia Coleoni, SEI Latin America

When supporting research-informed policy-making, it is also essential that the research in question is shaped and led by people in the frontline of climate impacts.

Christina Daszkiewicz, SEI Oxford

Written by

Zoha Shawoo
Zoha Shawoo



Profile picture of Minh Tran
Minh Tran

Research Fellow

SEI Asia

Katarina Inga
Katarina Inga

Research Associate

SEI Headquarters

Anisha Nazareth
Anisha Nazareth

Associate Scientist


2018 portrait of Emily Ghosh
Emily Ghosh



Cláudia Coleoni

Research Associate

SEI Latin America

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